Two major Scandinavian banks will soon offer wireless banking to a substantial numbers of customers using technology from Tantau Software Inc., a Compaq spinoff.
Tantau, based in Austin, Tex., is considered an emerging force. Thirty financial services companies around the world have installed its system for testing, but Nordic Baltic Holding of Finland and SEB Group of Stockholm may wind up being the first to roll it out.
Nordic Baltic, formerly MeritaNordenbanken, seems to be in the lead. It is wrapping up a 10,000-user test of the software and expects to have 250,000 wireless banking customers by yearend, said Peter Klante, Tantau's vice president of marketing.
Nordic has 1.5 million Internet banking customers.
SEB Group expects to make the service available to its 5,000 most-valued online customers by the end of the summer, said Anders Bons, its head of strategy and competitive intelligence.
"We wanted a quick start," Mr. Bons said. "The vision for our bank is to become the leading European e-bank by utilizing the Internet and mobile channels."
SEB has 500,000 Internet banking customers. Mr. Bons said it expects to have five million mobile-banking customers by 2004.
The 5,000 customers in SEB's initial target group will be offered the ability to buy and sell stocks using wireless phones. Later SEB will offer the rest of its Internet banking customers the ability to check their account balances, pay bills, and transfer funds by wireless phone.
Mr. Bons said SEB is still deciding whether it will give smart phones away to the 5,000 premium customers or wait for subsidies from the telecommunications companies. The Ericsson R380 smart phone it has chosen to use is scheduled to come to market this summer. The phone has a touch-sensitive screen and functions like those of a palm device.
"We're discussing whether it should be a co-branded service with SEB preloaded on the phone," Mr. Bons said. "We're definitely taking a humble approach to this service, because we don't know how the market will react."
Tantau, which had been a research center of Compaq's Tandem division, is regarded as a company to watch in wireless banking. That is partly because of Tandem's name recognition; many banks use computers from Tandem, which Compaq bought in 1997.
Tantau also has a U.S. office in Cupertino, Calif. Overseas it has offices in Friedrichsdorf, Germany; Helsinki, Finland; Zurich; Stirling Scotland; London; and Sydney, and it is opening others in Amsterdam, Singapore, and Japan.
Its customers include Commerzbank in Germany, Merrill Lynch & Co., Visa International, EDB Novit in Scandinavia, Barclays Bank in the United Kingdom and the New Zealand Stock Exchange.
Tantau officials said that trials of its Wireless Internet Platform have doubled in the last three months, and that 40% of them are taking place in Europe. "This whole wireless thing is happening in Europe," said Peter Klante, vice president of marketing.
But interest is high in the United States too, he said.